Have you every had a panic attack? Think you are the only one of all the people you know to have one? You'd be wrong if you did! Over 6.8 million Americans suffer from Panic Disorder. Women have it two times more than men - which explains why we are often considered crazy for having them!
If you've never had a panic attack, you'll find it difficult to grasp what it's like having one. This is primarily because the sufferer can never fully articulate what it feels like. The most accurate descriptions include; shortness of breath, hyperventilation, tightness in the chest, weakness, dizziness, waves of the feeling of fainting, heart attack symptoms, smothering, weak limbs, losing control of all faculties and feeling imminent death. These physical sensations come in waves and lead to an instinctual panic reaction of fright or flight. This in turn causes an increase of the sensations of symptoms that are being felt and in turn the cycle grows in intensity. Make no mistake, these sensations are being felt and are being interpreted by the brain as completely legitimate and real.
Just as frustrating as the episodes themselves, are the well-meaning yet misguided input of the observers. Ranging from you are imagining or being dramatic to over nominalizing it. This only adds to the shame that leads to suppression of acknowledgment and treatment of the anxiety.
So what is actually happening to us when a Panic Attack commences? The truth is panic attacks are still a mystery even to the experts, but it is acknowledged as a physiological and psychological event. There is a strong opinion that the connection between the physical and neurological plays a key role. In short, the brain misfires voluntary and involuntary neurological signals to the body, the body responds and sends reinforced messages to the brain which trigger more neurologically reinforced thought patterns throughout the body. The first panic attack sets the precedent for all impending attacks in the future. This is why you can have a slight sensation and immediately go into a panic "feeling a panic attack coming on."
Where the first attack originates is an enigma. I hold to the theory of stress overload, trauma, fear-based emotions or thoughts as well as poor physical health at the moment of episode (lack of sleep, proper nutrition, imbalances and toxins.) All of these could create a perfect storm for the first panic attack some has. But more interestingly, once the initial panic attack has happened, these physical conditions, emotions and stressors need not even be present in future episodes. So powerful are the neuropathways that the first panic attack creates, the brain only needs a trigger of familiarity to start the attack.
So what can be done to retrain the brain and to support your own ability to stop and curb an attack. The follow suggestions are preemptive as well as a rescue kit while in an attack.
MAGNESIUM. It is well documented that low magnesium in the body can contribute to nervousness, anxiety and lack of sleep. There are many great products such as supplements, drink powders and the old fashion epsom salts bath which can calm the body through an infusion of magnesium. Try it once and you'll notice a difference. Many Holistic and Integrative experts are studying deficiency of iron and vitamin B as culprits as well.
WATER. Dehydration can often cause symptoms that mimic the sensations that heighten a panic attack. Stay hydrated. Drink some water at the onset of an attack.
SLEEP. Often for the sufferer of night attacks, sleep is dreaded and fretful. But lack of sleep slows the brains ability to reason and logically problem solve. During a panic attack cognitive reasoning is definitely inhibited. In our sleep our neuro regeneration is increased. There are many natural sleep aids, like magnesium or essential oils that help calm and allow sleep. Endoflex (Young Living Essential Oil) applied to the fold of the big toe helps support serotonin and helps balance the pituitary. Of course Lavender, Cedarwood and many others are helpful for good rest.
ANCHORS. This type of anchor has nothing to do with boating but everything to do with keeping you focused and from going to far into the "light" of an attack. An anchor is anything that keeps you grounded emotionally and mentally, and especially on a positive experiential memory or emotion. It can be a mantra for some, music or video or any thing that the mind associates with calm, positive reaction. Mine is a playlist of spa like music that always knocks me into a calm deep sleep. Whatever it is needs to have a good experiential thought pattern to it.
One personal anchor I used for a while to remind me I'm not dying when in an attack was an actual heart monitor sticker left over from an 911 call where it was determined I was not indeed dying and actually in perfect condition of health. Nothing can knock you out of a cycle of the panic sensation of dying more than a room full of cute paramedics watching an middle aged woman think she's dying of...panic. That one experience was so humiliating and conscious opening it knocked me out of my panic attack instantaneously and I've not had a full blown one since. So I took the heart monitor sticky as an anchor and wrote the words, "you are healthy and fine" on the perimeter. I couldn't fit "so snap out of it!" I still have it just in case I need recall.
EFT TAPPING. Anchor associations leads me to the very effective therapy based on neuroscience. Neuroscience is the study of the brain the way our brains are wired. The facts are - your brain has a super highway built with reinforced concrete of experiences - like panic attack sensations- which once constructed, the brain fires off involuntary thoughts and reactions that travel on auto pilot through out the body. To interrupt these auto-piloted reactions, the thoughts must be redirected, while new highways are built. This is what EFT Tapping does in the brain. While you are speaking a new thought of positive and calm responses, you are physically initiating sensations (physical perception) while tapping. Using several thought highways at once "confuses" the automated thought/sensation loop and sidetracks the brain. Thus stopping the involuntary sensations and responses. Go to podcast or iTunes to download a good, balanced and effective guided EFT track. Use it before an attack to be familiar with it and have it handy on your phone.
Lastly - only you know YOU. Be willing to ask yourself what are the triggers in your life. Develop personal awareness that investigates what has added to the inventory of stress or trauma in your life. Be willing to be put on a road of healing and recovery. All the tips in the world will never do the work of healing the root cause. You are valued and loved and worth living a life free from anxiety, panic and attack.
if you'd like coaching on a targeting and eliminating stressors in your life or how to use natural support like essential oils and other holistic therapies in controlling your symptoms, contact me at
I can teach you how to use several natural and transformative approaches in your every day journey toward health and wholeness. It has helped me and changed my health experience!